Sir Patrick Vallance has stated that Rishi Sunak was likely aware of concerns from scientists regarding the “eat out to help out” program implemented during the pandemic. This directly contradicts the prime minister’s testimony to the Covid inquiry.
Rewording: During the pandemic, Vallance, the UK government’s top scientific advisor, gave testimony that could be detrimental. He stated that he would find it unlikely if Sunak, who was the chancellor at the time, was not aware of any opposition to his proposal to aid the hospitality sector.
Sunak stated in his letter to the inquiry that he did not remember any discussions about potential issues with the scheme during ministerial meetings, even though there were worries that the discounted plan could contribute to the spread of the virus.
According to an entry in Vallance’s diary from July 2020, there is evidence that Sunak attempted to resist the advice of scientists. During a meeting focused on economics, Sunak stated “the key is managing the scientists, not managing the virus.”
Vallance stated that there were instances when it was evident that the unwanted advice being offered was not well-received, which required extra effort to ensure that the scientific evidence and guidance were being properly acknowledged.
Vallance stated that Boris Johnson occasionally faced difficulties in grasping fundamental scientific principles related to Covid, such as the effects of lockdown on infection waves. He required multiple explanations to fully understand these concepts.
According to Vallance’s diary entry, Johnson was characterized as “feeble” and “indecisive” when considering a second lockdown in the fall of 2020. Vallance also remembers the prime minister opposing restrictions, citing that it would mainly affect older individuals who have already lived a full life.
When questioned about the eating out program proposed by Sunak, which offered discounts of up to £10 at restaurants and cafes during the summer of 2020, Vallance stated that he and other scientific advisors were not consulted prior to its implementation by the Treasury.
Before that, the statement was unambiguous: interacting with individuals from other households or those you do not live with in a confined space with many others posed a high risk. This policy completely changed that perspective,” stated Vallance.
It is challenging to determine how it could not have impacted transmission, and that was the guidance provided.
The investigation was presented with a portion of Sunak’s written testimony, as he is scheduled to appear in person next month. In the statement, he stated that he did not remember any concerns being raised about the scheme during ministerial discussions before or after its launch. These discussions included meetings with Vallance and Chris Whitty.
When asked about its accuracy, Vallance stated that it would have been clear to anyone that this would ultimately lead to a higher risk of transmission. He also believes that ministers were aware of this.
When asked by inquiry counsel Andrew O’Connor, if this applied to Sunak, Vallance responded by stating that he couldn’t remember which meetings Sunak was present in, but he would be greatly surprised if any minister was not aware of the potential risks associated with these openings.
When asked about Johnson’s understanding of the scientific concepts he was shown, Vallance stated that the prime minister’s last exposure to science was at the age of 15. He also added that Johnson would readily acknowledge that it was not his strong suit and that he faced difficulties with some of the concepts, requiring them to be reviewed multiple times.
He expressed that it was sometimes challenging to ensure that he comprehended the message conveyed by a specific graph or data.
During the hearing, Vallance discussed how scientific concepts, including the effectiveness of interventions like lockdowns in reducing infection rates, were also addressed.
Vallance stated that he would observe the crests of waves and spread of infection and question whether our interventions were the cause or if it would have occurred naturally.
He frequently revisited this topic. We explained to him the evidence that showed the interventions were effective. While it is true that public behavior also plays a role in the decrease, it was clear that the interventions were a significant factor.
Various other extracts from Vallance’s diary shed a similarly unflattering light on Johnson, showing him repeatedly changing his mind over a second lockdown, with Vallance telling the hearing that the then prime minister “was influenced a lot by the press”.
On October 25th, 2020, the journal recorded that Johnson initiated a discussion about potential limitations by advocating for “letting it all rip.” He stated that there would likely be more casualties, but he was willing to accept it, saying “they have had a good innings.” The journal also included a quote from Johnson suggesting that most individuals who pass away have already lived a full life.
In his previous statement, Vallance stated that in mid-March 2020, approximately one week prior to Johnson’s implementation of the initial lockdown, data indicated that Covid was spreading at a greater rate than anticipated. He further commented that it was evident that action should have been taken sooner.
According to Vallance’s statement, the main lesson he learned during that time was that interventions needed to be implemented earlier, with more force, and on a larger scale than initially desired.